GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - 2018

Paper No. 208-12
Presentation Time: 4:45 PM


STEIN, Seth1, BROOKS, Edward M.2, SALDITCH, Leah1 and KELLER, G. Randy3, (1)Earth and Planetary Sciences, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208, (2)Earth & Planetary Sciences, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208-3130, (3)School of Geology and Geophysics, University of Oklahoma, 100 E. Boyd, Norman, OK 73019

New methods of oil and gas production, including hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection, have revolutionized the U.S. energy industry. However, these new methods pose some environmental challenges. Among these are the earthquakes resulting from injection of massive amounts of wastewater into the subsurface. The water originates from oil and gas production from shale reservoirs, where the new extraction techniques are employed. As a result, Oklahoma and the surrounding areas have become one of the most seismically active regions in the United States. These earthquakes have caused modest damage and great public concern, because they are larger and much more frequent than had been the norm. Twenty-one quakes of magnitude 4 or greater struck in 2016 and six struck in 2017 —more than a century’s worth of normal seismic activity into the past two years. Moreover, buildings in the area are not constructed to standards that consider seismic risk. A number of lawsuits have been filed against firms conducting wastewater injection, and state regulators are trying to develop policies to address the new earthquake hazard, given the dominant role the oil industry plays in the area's economy. Our research shows that the USGS’s probabilistic earthquake hazard map for 2016 does a good job of predicting the increased hazard posed to the area. These results imply that such hazard maps can be valuable tools for policy makers and regulators in attempts to manage the seismic risks associated with unconventional oil and gas production. It should be practical to develop a sound public insurance program to cover damages, in which operators injecting wastewater transfer liability to the program in exchange for fees that underwrite the program's cost. A model might be the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a federal no-fault alternative to the traditional legal system for resolving vaccine injury petitions.